Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Who Dey Think Gonna Beat Dem Bengals?

Well, the Atlanta Falcons thought so, and as it turned out, they were right. Still, my (and Brandi's) first NFL game was a lot of fun, and our trip to Cincinnati was quite memorable.

After spending Friday night with my parents in Troy, we got into Cincinnati a little before 4:00 on Saturday afternoon. We stayed at the Westin Hotel downtown, which I highly recommend. It was a little pricey, but it was worth it for a room so nice. Our room looked directly down onto Fountain Square, which was really cool. Also, the bed was incredibly comfortable. I wanted to bring the pillows home with me (and the Westin allows you to do this...for a price, of course), and the sheets and comforter were nothing to sneeze at, either.

We spent some time after our arrival exploring the area around our hotel. Quite a few buildings in downtown Cincinnati are interconnected by an enclosed skyway, so we took advantage of that. We visited the nearby Tower Place Mall in an effort to pick up some Bengals gear for us to wear to the game on Sunday, but neither of us could find anything we liked all that well. Still, it was fun to browse around for a while. We visited the food court for a snack and then headed back to the room.

One of the main things we were looking forward to on our trip was a nice dinner out on Saturday night, so when we returned to the room, we started scouring the Cincinnati City Guide for a restaurant where we could get such a meal. After a call to the hotel's front desk to find out if it was within walking distance (they said it was), we decided on Nicola's Ristorante, which sounded like it would be a nice place to get a good Italian meal for a fairly reasonable price, which was more or less what we were looking for. We called to make a reservation, then had time for a catnap before we had to start getting ready.

Once we left, it quickly became apparent that the restaurant was not really within walking distance from the hotel. The street it's on was only three blocks away, but the restaurant itself was another eleven or twelve blocks north--it wasn't a bad distance in itself, but it was more than we could cover in the time we allotted ourselves, especially given that Brandi was wearing heels and couldn't really walk all that quickly. So we got a cab, and we arrived at the restaurant on time.

(I'd also like to note that, despite having spent at least some time in New York, Chicago, and Cleveland, this was my first time in a taxi.)

The restaurant itself was really cool. It's located in an old renovated car barn for trolleys, so the wood is worn and dark, and the ceilings are high. We had to wait a few minutes before a table was ready for us, so we started reading some of the articles they had framed on the walls, and that was how we learned that we were preparing to dine at a five-star restaurant. We knew that meant that it would probably cost a little more than we had anticipated (despite what the Cincinnati City Guide had said), but it made us look forward to the meal even more.

We weren't disappointed in the least. We were led to a table upstairs, so we had a pretty good view as we looked down on everything. The whole meal was first-class all the way. Our waiter was very good, and the food was unbelievable. I started with a Belgian endive salad made with pears and walnuts and served with Gorgonzola cheese, and Brandi had a salad of greens with goat cheese. Mine was not at all what I expected, but it was excellent, and Brandi's was very good as well. For the entree, I had tagliatelle bolognese, which turned out to be really nothing more than spaghetti with meat sauce, but it was awesome. We also shared a bottle of pinot grigio throughout the meal. Really, for everything we got and for as utterly amazing as the food was, the bill for the evening was fairly reasonable. More than we expected to spend when we set out, sure, but absolutely worth it.

After dinner, we wanted to go out for some drinks. We had a bar in mind, but we didn't know where it was, so we headed back in the direction of our hotel, knowing there were some bars in that area. Unfortunately, we couldn't find an unoccupied taxi, so we ended up walking. It wasn't too bad, except it was a little chilly and, still, Brandi was wearing heels. We went into a bar a few blocks before we reached our hotel, so we could have a drink while Brandi rested her feet for a few minutes. We were a little out of place there, as they were having a Halloween party and neither of us was in costume, so we didn't stay past our one drink.

We were able to hail a cab as we left the bar, so we hopped in and told the driver the name of the bar we wanted to visit. As luck would have it, he had never heard of it, and neither had the dispatcher when he called in to find out where it was. So we hopped back out of the cab and went back to the hotel, thinking we could just have a drink or two at the hotel bar. We stopped at the desk to find out exactly where the hotel bar was located, and he informed us that it had shut down. The Westin is undergoing some renovations right now, and a new restaurant/bar is slated to open soon, but they have none right now. Fortunately, he was able to recommend a nice place to have a drink nearby, so we set out once again.

We walked about a half a block from the hotel to visit Havana Martini, which was a pretty nice bar. They were also having a Halloween party, but it wasn't as crowded and not as many people were in costume, so it was fine. They also had a good band. We ordered a bottle of wine and finished our evening there. It's a good thing we were only half a block from our hotel; we stumbled back there and were immediately out for the night.

When we awoke on Sunday, mercifully avoiding any ill effects from the night before, our attention was focused on getting ready and getting to Paul Brown Stadium for the Falcons-Bengals game. Kickoff was at 1:00; we left our room shortly before 11:00. We checked out of the hotel and took all our luggage down to the car, then started walking to the stadium, which is just a few blocks away.

Even just walking to the game was fun. It was a beautiful day, and there were so many people out and about, on their way to the game and enjoying themselves outside. There were tailgate parties for blocks, and the atmosphere was incredible. Even just outside the stadium, once we had passed through the security checkpoint, there was a ton of stuff going on. We walked through and checked everything out, then finally entered the stadium.

One thing I thought was strange--listed on the tickets was the gate we were supposed to enter through in order to be closest to our seats; however, at least as far as I could tell, the gate designations are only visible once you're already inside the stadium. We ended up entering the stadium about as far away from our seats as possible. That worked out for us, though, as we had planned to walk around the stadium anyway. Our first item of business once we got inside was to find a souvenir stand so Brandi could get a foam tiger claw, which she had been talking about for weeks leading up to the game.

From there, we headed to our seats. They were in the upper deck on the "home" side of the field, on about the 35-yard line. I had never been quite so high up for a football game before, and it was a really cool view. It was a little hard sometimes to tell who an individual player was, but you could see exactly what was going on in the game. I liked it. Being there in person really gives you a feel for how fast the game is. I have to say, Michael Vick is definitely more impressive in person than he is on TV (and that's saying something). It isn't just his straight-ahead speed that's dangerous; he has incredible quickness when he makes a move.

It was awesome how into it the crowd was, and it helped that it was a great, close game. It looked early on like Cincy was going to pull it out, but Atlanta was able to put together a rally to take the lead and then hold on in the end. I was really hoping the Bengals would be able to win at the last second, to see how the place would react to a victory, and especially one like that.

Alas, it was not to be, but it was still a great time just being there; both at the game and in Cincinnati in general. As many times as I've been to Cincinnati for Reds games, this was really my first time exploring any other aspects to the city, and I really liked it. I'm looking forward to checking out even more stuff next time we get a chance to visit (although we'll definitely be staying at the Westin again).

Check out pictures from the trip here.

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